I just finished Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front. It’s at least in part an eco-survivalist guide to finding your way in peak oil, climate change, and the forecasted hard times that will come from energy crisis. I don’t agree with it entirely, I have to say that I’m not as doom-and-gloom as she is (perhaps just my denial kicking in), but I appreciated several sections of her book.
One section which inspired me to rethink was her description of the mobility of Americans – apparently we move once every five years on average. Given we’re transitory and perhaps expect future transitoriness, we don’t consider our relationship with our own yards in the way we might if we anticipated a lifelong relationship with the place. Just using the word “yard” seems less intimate and less nurturing than using the word garden, even though these two words have a common origin. Yard seems to be about what it stores (brickyard, lumberyard) where a garden evokes what it grows. Garden is clearly more creative and sustaining in my mind.
That struck me as a strong contrast to, say, a book I read last summer, The Lost Upland: Stories of Southwestern France, in which the first story chronicled someone weeding and reclaiming an ancient garden plot, thinking of the folks who gardened there before. That whole book seemed permeated with a longstanding relationship to the land, though it in part elegized it.
One of the reasons I stopped writing about being green was because I was moving to a bigger house on a bigger lot. And, the other day, when I came out the side door and encountered a bed of peonies in full bloom that I didn’t plant, hadn’t tended, and didn’t even notice in bud, I said to myself “what have I done to deserve this.” The peony blooms shocked me. And I was grateful to the previous owner (not sure which, the prior residents were there for only one year) who put that in for me to enjoy today.
Although there was a fair bit of doom and gloom in the start of Astyk’s book, the depletion part, she did have a clear vision for abundance. Astyk advocates adapting in place, avoiding the cost and waste of razing the current infrastructure, by retrofitting our homes for increased energy efficiency, planning for intergenerational and more collaborative living, and cultivating gardens to increase our self-sufficiency. She’s envisioning a future of suburbia filled with familes and neighbors cultivating the eco-equivalent of Victory gardens. A sweet vision.
So, maybe I don’t have to feel quite so terrible about the lovely garden and the land we’re enjoying. I benefitted from the past investment of the prior inhabitants of my house. For our part, we’ve put in a small garden bed holding lettuce, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and shallots so far. We will add additional kitchen garden terraces in other years. Next, we will invest in longer term items such as fruit- and nut-bearing trees and bushes, inspired by a visit and a rough plan by Nature and Nurture. I’d like to stay where we are for a long time, and plan for abundance.